Adventures in Africa – Story 5

Adventure 5 was organised mostly by my university as it was a field work trip for one of my modules. I, however, arranged the first 5 days of my trip to go and see my best friend who lives in Cape Town, South Africa. The same friend’s house that I sadly had to leave before a previous university trip to Africa due to a rather difficult period of dealing with anxiety. 

The time I spent in Cape Town was incredibly fun, with trips to the beach just down the road, exploring part of the garden route, and also visiting a sort of wildlife rescue centre that specialised in rescuing lions from circuses etc. 

After my few days in Cape Town, I was off on a flight to Johannesburg to meet up with the rest of my group at the Holiday Inn. Once at the hotel, I started organising my things, so I was in the right clothes to start a very wild adventure in the very hot African summer. 

The actual trip was based at the Ecotraining Mashatu Camp in Botswana, just north of the South African border with the Limpopo river being the cut off between the two countries. At the camp, we were all sleeping in two-man canvas tents, which were incredibly hot due to the summer heat. Daily temperatures averaged around 30-35°C with the hottest day reaching 40°C. This trip was in mid to late March 2019 which is the very end of the summer before the southern hemisphere starts going into autumn. I much prefer the winter in South Africa where the days are still fairly warm at an average of 25°C with the nights being much cooler, making it easier to sleep. I didn’t have a choice as to the timing of this trip however, so I just had to put up with it. 

Being a severe sufferer of insomnia, I have to be in very specific conditions to sleep, one of which is a very important one, and that is actually being very cool. I averaged about 2 hours of sleep a night as the temperatures didn’t really drop until about 2:30am and we had to get up at 5am. How I was able to concentrate at all with that little amount of sleep I have no idea, but sometimes the excitement of being in Africa takes over and you just get on with it. 

Our daily schedule started at about 5am, where you would meet in the dining tent for a cup of coffee and a rusk, or in my case, just the rusk. We then started our first activity at about 6am, being either a bush walk or a game drive depending on the group you were in. This activity would last until about 9:30am, with breakfast starting at 10:00am. After breakfast, we would have a lecture given to us by one of our two lecturers, or one of the guides from Ecotraining. The lectures usually lasted an hour, maybe two hours at most. We then had time to fill in and update our field journals to make sure we had recorded everything from previous bush walks and game drives, including species records, animal tracks and tree identification, and anything else we had been taught. We could then just relax and wait until lunch and the afternoon activity, which was quite nice as it meant we had time for showers and washing our clothes etc. I learnt very quickly that you do not have a shower in the dark as your torch attracts a whole array of bugs which try and jump on you while you’re starkers in the shower, a very unpleasant experience if you ask me. 

Woodland Kingfisher, a resident member of the camp

Lunch was served at 3pm, giving us enough time to eat and get ready before the afternoon activity which started at 4pm. The afternoon activities were bush walks or game drives again, switched from what activity your group had done previously. The afternoon activities went until 7pm, or until it was starting to go dark with the bush walks. We then had dinner at 7:30 or 8pm and after that we were free to go to bed. 

The walks were absolutely exhausting in the heat, which was so intense in fact that even when sitting still in camp you would be sweaty and gross. It was incredibly important therefore that you were drinking enough water to stay hydrated as once you start down that road, it is very difficult to treat in the middle of nowhere especially when you will constantly be losing water due to the heat. One of my rules was to sip water throughout the day, as being raised with a mother in a medical profession I was taught that once you’re thirsty, you’re already on a dangerous path to becoming dehydrated. You shouldn’t allow yourself to ever need to gulp down water, especially as doing this could cause you to wash out your electrolytes which will also make you not feel particularly well. I carried a 2-litre camelback pouch in my backpack so that I could constantly take sips throughout all the activities. Another tip I would suggest is to carry some rehydration sachets with you, as you never know when you might get into trouble with this sort of thing and the closest hospital with similar standards to UK hospitals is 6 hours away in Johannesburg. (Please bear in mind that I’m not a medical professional but following these tips may help keep you safe). 

Some other useful things you may want to bring if you embark on a similar adventure are some gaiters. Gaiters cover the tops of your shoes and work very well at stopping a little beasty known as a devil thorn from slicing your feet up. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any gaiters with me, but I adapted the bottoms of my zip-off trousers with some spare shoelaces to do the exact same job. I would highly recommend this piece of kit as it will save you from a world of pain. Any safari store will usually have them and they cost maybe £10-£15. I have used thesafaristore.com to buy my gear for years of work and activities in the bush. 

Going back to the Packing for Safari blog post, the colour of your clothing is particularly important, especially when on a bush walk as you are trying to blend into your environment. The colours I generally wear in the bush are greens and browns, greys are also acceptable as long as they’re not too dark. You shouldn’t wear any bright or reflective colours or any very dark colours as these will make you stand out and an animal will definitely notice you. 

Footwear is another important consideration due to the terrain, distance, and thorns etc, that you may find on your bush walk. I wore a sturdy pair of Brasher walking boots, they have a very thick sole and upper part so my foot was completely protected from most nasty things that may injure my foot such as bugs, snakes, and acacia thorns. The only thing I was not protected from were those darn devil thorns. Another thing to note is to be very careful around camp. You may see the guides walking around in bare feet, but they are very knowledgeable and capable of dealing with the nasties you might find. For example, I went to the loo one night and a centipede walked right past the edge of my boot, something that you really don’t want to bite you as it can be very painful, and depending on the species, it could also be venomous. Summer is most definitely the worst season for bugs as they like to come out especially after the rains. We had a huge rainstorm one evening and then there were spiders, scorpions, and a range of other beasties pretty much everywhere. In the winter, you will hardly ever see insects and for me, that is another reason not to go in summer. 

The activities were exhausting but exhilarating at the same time with so many possibilities to see so many different animals. I had my first sighting of Brown Hyenas on this trip which was so special to see. We also saw leopards, lions, elephants, and so many bird species I can’t even list them all, but it was incredible. We also had a small spotted genet who very much fancied one of the trees in camp, an animal who I’ve never seen so close or so brave before. 

Overall, other than dealing with a few personal struggles, the trip was an experience of a lifetime. We got to experience a sleep out under the stars with only a sleeping bag as protection. Although it is something I have experienced before, seeing everyone else’s excitement of noticing just how big the night sky is was awesome. You never forget an experience like sleeping out in the wilds with no tent, toilet or other commodities, and I think it’s something that everyone should experience at least once in their life. 

The food was some of the best I’ve ever eaten, being served three hot meals a day, and everything was delicious. We were even served homemade cakes at every single lunch, a little treat when there’s no chance of popping to the shops for a chocolate bar which would melt instantly. Even though I ate as much as I possibly could, even with all the meat and carbs in the world, I still ended up losing ¾ of a stone from all the walking and sweating. 

I think next time I’m on a trip with a similar itinerary, along with the sheer wildness of it and not being near human civilisation, I would like to try and pack a bit more minimally. I took an absolutely huge duffel bag, I think 120L or something in capacity, a 40L backpack and a small padded bag for my camera. My goal would be to travel with just a 40L backpack that contained all of my clothes, toiletries, and anything else I thought I might need. I took a ridiculously large first aid kit, although having had as many medical emergencies as I have in my life, that was probably a good thing. I think just about every single student ended up having some kind of minor accident. Mine was probably the smallest accident, although I still have a mark. I slid of the side of the Land Rover and caught my leg on the metal step. I didn’t cut it but got a very large bruise with a solid line down the middle. After nearly a year and a half, I still have the solid line in my leg. At least it’s something to help me remember the trip, kind of like a free memento. 

When it comes to packing for trips like these, you definitely don’t need to bring as much as you think you do. I’ve been adapting my packing list for the last 6 years over all these various trips and I haven’t quite nailed it yet. In some upcoming blogs I will be delving into the world of minimalism, minimalist travel, and topics revolving around that. I have to say, the idea of travelling with just one bag becomes very appealing after having done it and seeing how easy it was compared with the amount of stuff I took on this trip. 

That sums up the Adventures in Africa series… For now! I hope you’ve enjoyed having a read of everything I got up to over the last few years and I can’t wait until we can all go adventuring around the world again to create more stories to tell.

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